Chapter 1: Fashion police
The first day after the reorganisation of the Guards was though. Multiple people had come to Korda asking what they should wear of all things, and Olaf had just told everyone to come in their uniforms. However, he was starting to see why this would be a bad idea. The uniforms were fine, but the masks ruined everything. People on the market square walked around the guards with big curves, just as they did before. Olaf ran his hand through his hair, when he spotted two familiar figures.
"Mister Verheij, Miss van den Kooij! Over here, please!" Both of them looked around nervously, and walked over towards Olaf, taking off their masks as a sign of respect. Olaf snickered nervously.
"Yes, about those. What is that?" Frederic and Fleur looked at eachother.
"That’s a mask, sir." Fleur responded, holding up the black item.
Olaf threw his hands up. "Yes, I've noticed. Why are you wearing masks?" He asked. Now it was Frederic’s turn to smile nervously.
"Because they are part of our uniform, sir." He held his mask forward, showing it off. "Supposed to make us more intimidating, I think. Gets rid off all the individuality, makes us less of a person. Bit dark, now that I think about it." Olaf snatched the mask from his hand, inspected it, and looked at the market. The Guards weren’t trying to be intimidating, helping people everywhere by setting up stalls, and stopping the occasional pickpocket. Finally, he took one last look at the mask and threw it away, as far as he could. The frustration was obvious, but as Olaf was still weakened from his time locked up in jail, it didn't get very far. He huffed in annoyance.
"You two, grab a sack and go gather everyone's masks. These things have to go."
Chapter 2: Schermer
Leon and Fleur make a decision.
“Leon, look!” Fleur was pointing at a note on the notice board. “A letter from the Count! Look, it even has the official stamp!”
Leon walked up to her, a net filled with fish still over his shoulder. He looked at Fleur, then back at the board. “Mmm. He tells us he wants crab tomorrow for dinner, and that we need to go back to work, especially Fleur.” He said, and handed her the net. “Bring this to the crates, please.”
“Leon, stop it. We both know the Count hates crab.” She took the net anyways.
Leon snorted, and reread the note. “Citizens of Ravenbosch, Count Olaf Grafhart has decreed… blah blah blah, Everyone older than 16 is encouraged to sign themselves up to join the Guards of Raveleijn, in the city of Raveleijn. More bullshit about where and when, uhh… signed, Sheriff Korda. Sounds, uh, fun.”
“Leon, you know what this means?” Fleur stared at him, her expression gleeful.
“Well, guppy, what does it mean? Because all I'm getting from this is that Korda is getting old.” Leon laughed as Fleur rolled her eyes so far back they almost retracted into her skull. “Come on, gup. Bring the fish to the crates, we might be able to get off early tonight.”
“No, Leon, it means we might be able to leave this hole! Look! We could go to Raveleijn and have a better job! Protecting people! You have to admit, that sounds a lot better than smelling like dead fish all day.” Fleur sounded exited.
Leon lifted his arm and smelled his armpit. “What's wrong with my Eu de fish? Do you suddenly not like my delightful fish smell anymore? I thought you loved it! Well, I guess I'll stop rubbing fish all over myself every morning.” He said, in a mocking voice. Fleur looked at him, face filled with disgust, but started laughing soon after.
“Fuck off, Leon, that's not what I mean. You can keep rubbing fish all over yourself if it makes you happy. Still, doesn't it sound great?”
Leon looked at the note and sighed. “It does on paper, but…”
“Fleur, we both know the Count hasn't exactly been… stable for the past few weeks. This plan might not turn out as great as it sounds, and I want you to at least realize that.” Leon sighed. “I mean, it's not like I'm not exited, I am, but, you know…”
Fleur nodded, and sat down on one of the crates. Schermer wasn't a big town. Half of the population were fishermen, and the other half mostly did something else with fish. The entire town was built on the water, docks and boats everywhere you looked, fishing nets used for all purposes. All in all, it was obvious what this town lived on. Fleur was sick of it. She never wanted to become a fisher, yet it had seemed to be the only option.
“I know, Leon, but… I don't know when we're getting another chance like this. You enjoy fishing just as much as I do, which is… not much, and I'm a bit too old to still become a baker. It feels like the best chance to get out of here”
“Alright.” Leon stretched out his hand. “Let's do it.”
“Really?” Fleur almost jumped into the air with exitement. “You're serious? Oh, thank you so much!”
“I'm serious, let's do this.” He paused, and placed both his hands on her shoulders, trying to morph his grin into a serious expression. “On one condition.”
“You carry my fish deodorant.”
Chapter 3: Brother
Jacob will do anything to help his family.
Jacob was sitting by the fireplace. It was nearing midnight, and both his parents and all his younger siblings were asleep. The only reason he was still awake, was that he had been cleaning up the house. That, and the fact that he was waiting. Some rummaging at the door caused him to stand up from his chair. His older brother was finally home.
“Hendrik? Is that you?” he whispered. The stench of alcohol coming from the hallway already answered his question. His brother swayed into the living room, looking like a mess, and like he had lost a fight. Blood was dripping from his nose.
“Jacob! Wha- what are still doing up at this time?” Hendrik slurred. “Are you playing mommy again? Gonna… gonna scold me?”
Jacob grabbed a rag and soaked it in cold water from a bucket, and walked over to his brother. “You're bleeding. Why.”
“Because the other man was stronger!” Hendrik wasn’t even trying to be silent, and Jacob shushed him. “But why are you still up and about, little brother? Have you been drinking?” Hendrik continued, marginally softer.
“No, of course not!” Jacob sounded offended. “First, I helped mother making dinner, then I made sure Klara ate enough, and then I put everyone to bed, including our sick parents, and then I cleaned the house. Like a responsible brother.”
Hendrik stared at him, and snorted. “Is this one of those days again? Fucking stop it. I'm going to bed.”
“No! Just listen for once! I can't do this all by myself, and it certainly doesn't help that the only source of income for this family wastes it on alcohol and women! Hendrik, please, show that you care for us, once!” Jacob was on the edge of crying, but Hendrik just spat on the ground.
“Don't tell me what I can and cannot do, Jacob. I can ‘waste’ my money on whatever I like, and I have no obligations to show my ‘love’ for this shitstain of a family by giving money to you. You've managed fine so far. I'm going to bed.” Hendrik walked out, slowly and still swaying, but Jacob blocked the door.
“Alright. I'm done asking nicely. Either you start helping, or you leave. Last chance.” Jacob tried to sound intimidating, but the slight tremble in his voice showed that he still cared too much.
Hendrik laughed. “As far as I recall, you're my younger, scrawny brother, who has no say in such matters. Now get out of my way.”
Hendrik placed his hand on Jacob’s shoulder, but Jacob pushed him back. “You're not going to bed. Hendrik, I swear, this is your last chance. Even mom and dad are done with it.”
Hendrik grabbed Jacob’s shirt, and pushed him to a wall. Jacob was struggling, trying to push his brother's arms away, but Hendrik was much stronger. “Now listen here, you little shit. I don't care what happens to you, any of our siblings, or our parents. As far as I care, you can all drop dead and I'll be relieved. You can try all you want, but that's not going to change. I'm not going to play nanny.” Hendrik hissed. “And if you don't stop whining now, I'll make you stop. Using force.”
Jacob could feel tears running down his face, as Hendrik dropped him to the ground. “You know we still care for you, right? Mom and dad are worried sick about you, and Erik keeps asking me where you are. I don't think Klara could even recognise you, but she does see the empty bed, the empty chair behind the full plate.” Jacob whispered, his voice hoarse.
Hendrik turned around swiftly. “Are you trying to guilt trip me? Because it's not. Fucking. Working. I suggest you go to bed as well, before I knock you out right here and now.”
“Do that if you think it'll make you feel better.” Jacob said, standing up from the floor, and walking around the table towards his brother. “But it's not gonna change anything. Sooner or later you will-” He felt the fist colliding with his stomach. However, the pain wasn't coming from there, but from his lower arm. Immediately he felt a force on his other arm, pulling him from the floor.
“Fuck, Jacob, I-” Hendrik hissed. “Shit, let me get some water.” He grabbed the bucket and threw it over Jacob’s arm. Behind him, Jacob could hear the telltale sissing noise of the fireplace going out. He slowly lifted his arm to see the gray-white skin, blisters and redness surrounding it. As soon as the pain had started, it ended again; Jacob couldn't even feel his finger touching the wound. However, the red and blistery edges were still burning, causing his arm to shake. He wanted to scream in pain, but remembered his parents and siblings were upstairs.
"What…” Jacob looked at his brother. “What did you do?”
“Fuck, okay, it's not too bad- you can just get some more water, right?” Hendrik sighed. “Listen, that was obviously an accident. Don't get mad.”
“Hendrik, you should really leave now.” Jacob was trembling, in pain and in anger. “I don't think I want or need your help anymore.”
His brother stared at him for a while, but Jacob slowly lifted his healthy arm and pointed at the door. “You're nothing but extra baggage for all of us. You obviously resent us, so get out.” He whispered, silent but full of hatred.
“...Alright. I'll get out. Just… don't tell this to mom and dad, okay? Let's keep this between us.” Hendrik stood up.
“You have no right to ask me anything.” Jacob stood up as well, grabbing the rag from the table and putting it on his arm.
Hendrik nodded. He walked to the door and looked back at his seething younger brother once more, before closing the door behind him. Jacob hissed in pain and sat down on a chair. He carefully lifted the rag to inspect the wound, and closed his eyes. Trying to ignore the pain, he fell asleep.
Chapter 4: Little talks
“Listen, Wouter, is this really necessary?” Katrien tried to pull her hand loose, but Wouter held it tight. Her hand was starting to get a bit sweaty.
“I can’t see you in this crowd if I lose you, my lily.” Wouter grinned as Katrien huffed.
“There’s almost no one here.” She replied. Wouter shook his head silently. They were walking through a nearly empty street together. The marketplace had been busy, as usual, so Wouter had dragged her through, but now Katrien was starting to get a little weirded out by the unnecessary dragging.
“Besides,” she added, “I can take care of myself. I know the city just as well as you do, Wouter.”
Wouter walked on steadily, faster than Katrien could, thus causing her to jog a little. “What if I just don’t want to lose you anywhere?” He said. “The marketplace is way busier, sure, but you can get left behind anywhere.”
“Sure. If I get lost I’ll find you in no time, though.” Katrien replied. “You’re as tall as a tree.”
Wouter smiled at her. “Well, consider this: I don’t want to lose you. Ever.” He squeezed her hand, and Katrien looked up at the taller man. Seeing the genuine look in his eyes, she blushed furiously.
“Don’t… Don’t embarrass me like this.”
Wouter chuckled and pulled her closer. “Embarrass? You look lovely when you’re as red as you are, my sweet little daisy.”
“That’s disgusting.” Katrien scoffed and Wouter laughed loudly. Katrien was trying to hide her face in her cape, making the redness less obvious.
“It sure is.” Wouter said, finally letting go of her hand and draping his arm on her shoulder instead, pulling her in for a side hug. “But anything to get you blushing.”
Chapter 5: Snow
Cecilia gets to choose whether or not she helps someone out.
Cecilia wandered through the city streets, torch in hand. The streets were pitch black, and it was cold out, the icy winds biting at her cheeks. She pulled her hood closer around her face to keep herself warm. So far the night had been awfully silent, and the soft crackling fire on the torch didn’t help much against the silence nor the cold.
It had just passed midnight when she saw a thin figure dart behind a wall as she patrolled the area near the wall. After a quick moment of hesitation, she ran after the person, as silent as possible. It was possible he hadn’t seen her yet, and as a confrontation would mean having to put the torch down, it was best to avoid that for now.
She passed a corner and saw the figure sitting on the ground, seemingly looking for something in the small patch of grass. As soon as the light of her torch illuminated the person’s back, they sat up, frozen in fear.
“What are you doing here.” She said, not a hint of emotion in her voice. The person turned around to face her, very slowly, and even in the soft light, Cecilia could still see his face. He seemed young, a kid. Too young to be outside at this time, and in this weather.
“I-” The kid stuttered. “I’m sorry, I’ll go back home immediately, please-”
“Geesh.” Cecilia whispered under her breath. She could see the puffs of air form clouds in the air. “It’s… Too late for that now. You’re going to have to come with me. This isn’t a case of being out slightly past curfew.”
The kid, still sitting on the ground, buried his face in his hands. He was visibly shaking. “Please, I’m begging, my siblings- I was just-”
“Speak clearly, please. What were you doing?” Cecilia crouched down.
“...Gathering wood. For the fire.” He whispered, but managed to avoid stuttering.
“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” The question sounded more like a statement. After a few seconds of silence, Cecilia shook her head. “It doesn’t make a difference. I can’t make an exception for you, it would get both of us in more trouble than we have on our hands right now. Get up, and please coöporate.”
The kid closed his eyes and let out a long sigh, causing more hot air to form clouds in the air. Slowly, he stood up, wrapping his arms around his body. Cecilia softly grabbed his shoulder, and started walking him back towards the market square.
“I’ll coöporate if you can promise me something.” The kid said, more loudly than before. Cecilia raised an eyebrow. The standard response of just ignoring him seemed like the logical option, but it was cold, and the kid didn’t seem to have any bad intent.
She let out a short laugh, and replied. “What are you thinking of?”
“Can- can you check on my siblings? Put them to bed if necessary, put out the fire, make sure they’re okay? I’m…” He trailed off for a second. “I’m not gonna be back for the night, am I? And Aafje and Gijs, they’ll- They’ll be super worried and I don’t think they can take care of the twins if they’re worried and Hanne, Erik, they’ll start to notice and-”
“Isn’t that your parents’ job? How old are you even?” Cecilia furrowed her brow.
Cecilia was silent, taken aback by the quick response. She had trouble finding the right words. “I’m… sorry to hear that.
“Can you do it?” He whispered.
“...I’ll do my best.” She replied.
After a few more seconds of walking, the kid broke the silence again. “So, what’s going to happen now?”
“Not much, in your case. You’ll spend the night in jail, but, seeing as you’re still a kid, and- wait, before I say anything stupid. What’s your name, and how old are you?”
“Jacob, thirteen. I think.” He said, and Cecilia motioned for him to expand on his statement. “Oh, right, Jacob Galijn. Am I in trouble now?”
“...Well, no. You’re too young to get in genuine trouble. Just make sure it doesn’t happen again and you should be fine. You’ll be written down, though.”
The two had reached the market square, and a man came walking towards them.
Hastily, the boy whispered, a slight panic setting in. “Where you caught me, the second street on the right, the door- I left the door open, please, make sure they’re okay-”
“Wow, impressive job. You caught a child.” The man spoke, sarcasm dripping off his voice. Jacob took a fearful step backwards.
“At least I’m doing something, Peter.” Cecilia replied with a laugh, and softly pushed Jacob towards him. “Jacob Galijn, thirteen years old, outside for… unknown purposes. No malicious intent.” She softened her voice. “Just… Give him a blanket or something. Make sure he doesn’t freeze to death. I’ll come back in the morning to get him out.”
Peter nodded. “Sure.”
Cecilia smiled gratefully as Peter took the boy from her, and led him inside. As soon as the door closed behind them, she sprinted off, back to the place where she had found Jacob. She turned to the street he had mentioned. One of the doors in the street was ever so slightly ajar, and a soft flickering light came from the small opening. When she neared the door, she could hear soft, high pitched voices whispering amongst each other.
Softly, she knocked. The whispering stopped immediately.
“Who’s there?” A young girl said. Without answering, Cecilia opened the door and stepped inside, after extinguishing her torch outside. She could hear a soft gasp as she turned around to close the door behind her, and when she turned back to face the children, they had all gathered in the corner, afraid. Cecilia couldn’t help but let out a soft laugh at the sight of the two oldest children guarding the younger ones with a fearful determination.
“Hi.” She said, waving awkwardly, in an attempt to not scare them any further.
“Where’s Jacob.” The oldest girl asked.
“...Jacob got into a little trouble. It's very dangerous to go outside at night, and-” Her explanation got cut short by another gasp, this time from the boy next to the oldest sister. He was holding a small baby in his arms.
“Is Jacob hurt?”
Cecilia smiled softly. “No, he's fine. He'll be back in the morning, I promise.” She crouched down to get on eye level with the children, but the terrified expression didn't change. As she pinched the bridge of her nose, she felt the hard material of her mask.
“...Right.” She whispered, and stood back up to close the curtains. She noticed the burning stares of the children never leaving her back. Slowly, she unclipped the helmet and gently placed it on the rickety table, before pulling the black cloth that covered her head back. After she had done so, she sat down in front of the children, crossing her legs.
“Are you here to arrest us?” A younger girl said, softly. She couldn’t have been older than five. Her older sister quickly hushed her.
“No, of course not. Have you stolen anything lately?” Cecilia decided to ask. The girl shook her head. “Then there's no reason to arrest you, right?”
“Did Jacob steal something?” The older sister asked.
Cecilia smiled. “No. As I said, he’ll be back in the morning. In the meantime, he asked me to put you to bed. What's your name?”
“...I don't talk to strangers.” The girl crossed her arms. Cecilia closed her eyes. Dealing with children had never been her strongest point.
“I'm a friend, okay? I'm Cecilia, nice to meet you. Can I help you put everyone to bed?”
The child still seemed hesitant, but after a silent exchange with her brother, she nodded. “Aafje.”
“Perfect. Then you must be… Gijs, right?” Cecilia pointed at the boy holding a baby in his arms. He nodded. “Right, Aafje, Gijs, will you two put everyone to bed? Then I'll try to clean up the fire a little.”
The two children immediately got to work and Cecilia turned to what was left of the fire. It wasn't much anymore, and warmth was leaving the small house rapidly. A bucket stood next to the fire, filled with water. Cecilia’s expression immediately turned to disgust as she lifted the bucket. The smell was putrid. Water from the creek.
She poured as little water as possible on the fire to avoid wasting any. After the fire was extinguished, she sat down on a chair. A sigh escaped her.
The peace was broken by Aafje, who tapped on Cecilia’s shoulder to gain her attention. “They're in bed. Gijs too.”
“Perfect, you did great. You should go to sleep too, it's really late, okay?” Cecilia smiled, but Aafje didn't move. Instead, she stared at Cecilia, deep in thought.
“Is Jacob in jail?”
Cecilia hesitated. “...Yes, he is.” She said. There was no reason to bother with lying this time.
“Because he broke the rules. But, don't worry, he’ll be back-”
“Why wasn't Hendrik arrested then? He broke the rules.”
“I-” Cecilia scratched her chin. “Listen, I don't know. Maybe we didn't catch him. Jacob got unlucky. Next time this Hendrik does something bad, just find a guard and tell them, okay? We’ll handle it for you.”
“Jacob says we're not supposed to do that, but tell him instead.” Aafje was getting visibly distressed.
“Because you're not supposed to sell out family.”
Oh. Cecilia stood up. “Well, I'll be sure to tell Jacob the same things I just told you, okay? I promise everything’s gonna be okay. Just… go to sleep.”
Aafje sighed and nodded, before turning around and walking away. Cecilia pulled the black cloth back over her head and grabbed her helmet from the table, putting it back on. It was time to get back to work, before anyone noticed she was gone.
She opened the front door, and was greeted by a gust of cold wind and snowflakes. Shuddering, she closed the door behind her, careful not to make any noise. The hood didn't offer much protection against the snow that stuck to the mask. She kicked against the torch, now wet and covered in snow.
“Let's get a new torch first.”